Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Holiday Gifting: Advice on Giving and Getting

On The Getting of Gifts

Brace yourself – it’s holiday season. Or more to the point, prepare yourself to get busy with the gifting and then the writing of thank you cards for tacky socks and stinky candles. Unless. Unless! Unless you plan ahead – and there’s still time.

It might seem like this should come after the gifts, but if you want to launch a preemptive strike against the gloppy, unwanted preserves, awful recall-pending toys, and regifted needlepoint bookmarks, you have to do it before the shopping starts for the others. Tell them what you want before they buy you what you don’t!

My husband’s family has a tradition that I hated at first because it took all the element of surprise out of getting gifts. They exchange lists of what they want, and for the most part, shop from them. But the upside is that I no longer get Body Shop gift baskets, horrid old-lady slippers, or picture frames I wouldn’t put in the back of my closet. So try this on with your family.

Even better is the advent of the online wish list. Oh yes, I am a big fan. If you’re a reader (and I know you are), then you are likely aware of the wish list function at Amazon and Indigo. The great news is that Indigo also carries toys, and they too can be added to the wish list! This means you can send this wish list to your family members and they can shop with ease for stuff you’ve already handpicked for yourself and your kids. Indigo even offers their usual fantastic (and much-used, ahem) incentive of free shipping over $39 for toys, too. You bet I’ve sent this list out to everyone. No singing reindeer sweater for me.

On The Giving of Gifts

I am, of course, a huge proponent of giving books as gifts (see my list from last week as an example). But I’d also like to give you some hints about the other stuff. What other stuff? The toys, silly! Yes, I play with kids too. It’s a good job I have.

My first hint, when people ask me for help buying gifts (as they often do, actually), is to think of things that you know about the person. My friend, for example, is bought my daughter some Dora stuff for Christmas last year because she knews Pumpkinpie loved Dora and I am unlikely to be buying her any. That’s a great gift because it’s something she’ll like. I’m getting her Madeline’s dog and a game about adopting a puppy because she loves dogs. See how that works? But perhaps you don’t see this kid much, or you know their parent better than them, so this avenue is not really an option. Okay. Let’s look at some possibilities by age, shall we?

The baby. I am all for board books here, but I also love the classic toys. Blocks, shape sorters, soft rolling balls about 6” in diameter. I love chunky, round-edged Viking Toys cars, trains, and planes. Stacking rings and nesting boxes. Sophie the giraffe, a chewy toy made of natural rubber and painted with non-toxic vegetable paints (most good toy stores carry this, since it's a big hit with parents). Musical instruments of varying types are always fun for kids, even if the parents won’t necessarily love you for buying their little tyke a drum (hey, who’s the gift for, anyhow?). I also love plastic shopping baskets for them to stash their treasures in as they become mobile, to be pushed or carried with them. Older, walking babies almost uniformly love carts or baby strollers to push around with their newfound ambulatory abilities. And yes, Whoozits and other stuffed whatsits work too, though I’m not usually such a fan of the stuffies, as they are sure to get a ton without my help.

The toddler. I love that they enter the age of imaginative play as toddlers. For toddlers, I love play food and plastic or tin tea sets, small rubber animals (like Schleich's), toy machines, trucks, and trains. Accessories start to become interesting additions to play as they observe more too, so that a doll might start to require clothes or bottles, a toy dog might need a bone, and those play tools might really cry out for a hard hat to be worn with them. Doctor’s kits, vet kits, kitchen sets, and tool sets all play into this nicely and can encourage playing together. Puppets can be fun, too, but a fearful child may find them a bit freaky (also beware the spider puppet, which caused Pumpkinpie to lose it on my birthday, though I love Folkmanis’ other puppets). Puzzles are another great toy at this age, with complexity increasing as they get older so that a year-old child might enjoy wooden puzzles with knobs, while a two-year old can move onto wooden puzzles with more and smaller and knob-free pieces (an alphabet is great), and a two-and-a-half- or three-year old is likely ready for large floor puzzles with big, jigsaw-cut pieces. And, um, picture books, of course.

The preschooler. Many of the same toys that are good for toddlers still apply here, with greater variety and complexity. They have better coordination and an even greater imagination, so dress-up is getting easier to do and more appealing. Many children are learning more about gender roles and trying to fit in with peers at this time, so girls may gravitate towards more girly things and want jewelry, fancy crowns and princess dresses, and dolls, while boys may reach for trucks and dinosaurs, though I in no way believe toys need to be so gender-fied. I’m a big believer in Lego, puzzles, trains, Playmobil, and animals being treated as gender-neutral so there’s more common ground. These also happen to be some of my favourite toys. I also love art supplies for this age – crayons, stickers, large plastic beads with plastic lace to string them on, coloured papers, stamps, cookie cutters, playdough, and washable markers.

The school-ager. It gets trickier as they get older to get what they want (and it matters more and more each year that it be what they want!). If you can ask a parent what they’re into, it sure helps. If not, there is still hope. Many of them still enjoy Lego and Playmobil, as they are complex enough systems to bring imaginative play into a much higher level. Kits abound for this age, too. Klutz kits (found in most book and toy stores) can teach kids everything from cool crafts to juggling and playing the harmonica, and are nice and simple to follow. Art supplies are still a hit, for the most part, too, and science kits are great for the right kid. This age is also the beginning of the awareness of what’s cool, so consider gear with cartoon or movie tie-ins, where they don’t turn your stomach. As to books, these kids are into series, so even a non-reader is likely to be somewhat into receiving the newest in a hot series or a flashy movie tie-in for the “in” factor, if nothing else.

The teen. Cool rules here, but what’s cool varies a lot, and nothing is more grating than a teen’s eyeroll, so this is usually the toughest age to shop for. Crafty stuff can still be cool for many teen girls, as well as journals, while art supplies and sketchbooks are good for an artsy kid of either sex. If they have a hobby, it’s great to show that grownups do pay attention and get them something related, as long as it’s not, you know, lame (like, say, stationery or a cheesy mug or T-shirt). A safe bet, though, is the gift certificate. I know, I know, they feel like a copout. But teens love to control their own world as much as they can, so giving them the choice can be a nice thing, too. Try big music stores, movie certificates, big electronics stores, or, if the kid’s a reader, a big bookstore. Yes, I know it’s nice to support smaller independent stores, but they’ll have a better shot at getting what they want at a bigger store, and you want them to use it, right? So you may have to just grit your teeth this once. Sorry.

A final note about ages on toys

I was surprised to find out that the "age 3+" cutoff that is applied to the vast majority of toys in the world is not so much about the appropriateness of the toy as the standards that the manufacturers must meet. This means that last year I did, for example, buy Pumpkinpie trains and play food and rubber animals that were not technically approved for her age yet, but for her, they were okay. This will of course, depend on the kid. A child who is in fact likely to break a toy so that its small parts separate and could be swallowed might not be a good bet for this, nor is one who is likely to chew off the paint, which may not be non-toxic. If the kid’s not yours, I’d go with the safe bet.

Want more inspiration? Check out Becks’ great ideas from last Christmas or Indigo’s searches for toys by age or type of play (no, they are not paying me! I just find these sort options pretty helpful and fun to browse.).

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

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